Perelandra's Reviews > Meaning at the Movies: Becoming a Discerning Viewer

Meaning at the Movies by Grant Horner
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Jan 04, 11

bookshelves: christian, christianity, thought, film, favorites
Read in September, 2010

The first time I’d come across the work of Dr. Grant Horner was when I had finally made it to the final chapter of Think Biblically! Recovering a Christian Worldview, a book by John MacArthur and faculty members of The Masters College in Santa Clarita, CA. Here he had penned the chapter I had anxiously awaited entitled Glorifying God in Literary and Artistic Culture. I found the chapter to be compelling because in some Christian circles the arts are not well regarded and yet this is something I would like to pass along an appreciation and understanding of to my children through a biblical worldview. After checking online to find anything else published by him, I was excited to discover that Horner had created a Bible reading system for his personal use back in the eighties that is now widely publicized. Dr. Horner’s Bible Reading System and its online version have a growing following and consists of ten chapters a day from all across scripture. It is never the same reading twice – forever – a veritable saturation in God’s Word, yet also very flexible. Its uniqueness has made it wildly popular and has thoroughly renewed my own Bible reading sessions. Before long, Dr. Horner and I had corresponded about his Bible reading system and his, at the time, upcoming book, Meaning at the Movies: Becoming a Discerning Viewer, which I’ll be reviewing in this article.

At 213 pages, Meaning at the Movies is not intimidating in size but is packed with quality information. To fully grasp Horner’s subsequent chapters, the preface and introduction are must-reads. The preface takes the reader through an overview of the book and how it “works”. It also offers a short list of suggested films to view within the varying genres he later covers. Horner describes his book as “an extended meditation on why we have movies at all, why they are so powerful, and why Christians need to think deeply and theologically about film art — indeed, about all human cultural production.” Horner’s approach is biblical-theological, and his primary concern is how film works on our consciousness.

The introduction to Meaning at the Movies showcases the Word of God, i.e. the Bible, as Truth in totality, the tool used to truly divide that which is right and that which is error. Horner says that spiritual maturity and discernment go hand-in-hand, and “wise and mature Christians should have a wild boldness when it comes to proclaiming the truth of God in Christ, and a godly humility when talking about everything else.”

Horner believes that human culture in all its forms is linked to the fallen state of man and builds his basic arguments about film throughout the book upon Romans 1:16-23 which states,
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek [aka all non-Jews]. For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.”

Horner asserts that the suppression of truth in verse 18 is in fact the origin of culture and that man’s basic activity is the suppression of the truth of God and then a further suppression that the first act of suppression ever took place. In other words, they unconsciously make themselves forget that they have suppressed revealed Truth therefore “a second suppression”. Truth then reemerges culturally in a twisted fashion and generally with wide acceptance. Horner says, without going to extremes on the matter, that “human cultural output, from worshipping a golden calf to watching German opera, is a return of suppressed truth.”

Chapters one through eight of Meaning at the Movies is broken up into two parts: Practical Considerations and Film Analysis. Part one consists of three chapters. In chapter one, the first practical consideration is biblical discernment. He offers a question to aid the Christian in this area when watching a film:

“Who believes what about what and why?”

Horner shows that by applying this question to the film in question or other narrative cultural output you are on the road to understanding the particular underlying worldview of the film in question.

In chapters two and three, Horner offers an overview catalog of varying worldviews aka “The Many Ways of Misunderstanding Basically Everything”. As an aside, I appreciate the bluntness of that subtitle. He also describes “How to Interrogate a Movie”. Horner says there is more to film than mere entertainment…much more. “For the Christian viewer, this is an imperative: we must think about what we see and hear, look for philosophical positions, analyze worldview issues, and finally make a sound judgment based on careful, critical comparison to what God says about the central issue of human experience.”

In part two, Analysis, Horner delves more deeply into biblical film analysis by genre including several chapters covering comedy, horror, romance, and film noir. It is necessary to have read the preceding chapters to get a full and complete picture of the analysis waged in part two. Meaning at the Movies is concluded with a chapter on consciousness and memory and a deeper look at the suppression of truth.
Meaning at the Movies has helped me to clarify some of my own thoughts and feelings about film and other media including television and literature into a mentally well organized pattern. Over a long stretch of time I’d become aware and understood the impact that messages have on people particularly through entertainment when people’s minds are more passive and readily accepting of presented ideas. Due to the subtle but intense power of this truth it has been disturbing to me – akin to waking up from the Matrix and not knowing how to appropriately articulate this to those around me. With the help of this book, I now more clearly understand what is taking place through cultural output and why Christians should not despise it but embrace it as a means to compare it to biblical truth and make that truth known. Logical comparison isn’t an enemy but a friend, a helpful tool in understanding concepts well for ourselves and presenting them as plausible to others.

Dr. Horner’s style is highly informative as a teacher, yet very readable. His wit shines through and touches the reader in relatable ways through humor. At the same time, the book is a serious book, somewhat compact, yet chock full of information. It is a crash course overview in the universe of worldviews, film genre, and film history while explaining why and how film has the ability to effect the minds of humanity and how Christians can discern these things from a biblical approach. Horner makes a case for how film influences culture the world over and opens our sleepy eyes to the everyday reality of the suppression of truth described in Romans 1. The book comes with a long list of impressive recommendations including screenwriters, filmmakers, scientists, and other authors, but as a parent, a role a majority of adults play, I cannot overestimate the importance of familiarizing oneself with the points made within its pages as a tool to assist us in raising our children to interact with and understand the world and its cultural output from a truthful foundation. I don’t want to shelter my children from the world but to understand the world we live in and Grant Horner’s book gives me biblically sound tools to better parent my children in this area so that they might in turn become more culturally aware adults in regard to biblical truth – not in regard to the illusion winkingly offered by culture when it emerges after truth is suppressed.

Interview and more at my book review site at www.thinkaware.net
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